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Philosopher's Zone

ABC (Australia)

The simplest questions often have the most complex answers. The Philosopher's Zone is your guide through the strange thickets of logic, metaphysics and ethics.

The simplest questions often have the most complex answers. The Philosopher's Zone is your guide through the strange thickets of logic, metaphysics and ethics.


Melbourne, VIC


The simplest questions often have the most complex answers. The Philosopher's Zone is your guide through the strange thickets of logic, metaphysics and ethics.




Philosopher's Zone ABC Radio National GPO Box 9994 Sydney 2001 (02) 8333 1411


Adoption and moral obligation

There are an estimated 16.2 million documented orphans worldwide, with as many as 100 million more children living on the streets. It’s a problem of crisis proportions, which makes it perhaps strange that so many of us consider adoption as more of a last resort than a first-order obligation – to be considered only if the path to having genetically-related children is blocked. This week we’re looking at the justifications for genetic preference in families, and asking how these justifications...


Identity politics

Identity politics is grounded in the appeal to a stable, unified self and the authority of testimony. But this week we’re asking whether that foundation is solid, and if deconstructing it might allow for a more flexible approach to social justice.


Beauty: aesthetic or moral ideal?

These days, beauty is a moral imperative, an ideal to live by, and one according to which we judge ourselves and others. As a result, we increasingly shape our identities around our bodies – and not just our actual bodies with their lumps and bumps, but our imaginary future bodies: thin, smooth and firm. Gradually our notion of the good life comes to be centred on physical appearance, and this causes a range of harms which until now, philosophers have not taken seriously enough.



The cosmetic enhancement industry is booming. Injectables and surgical procedures promise age-defying beauty. But they come with real risks. From anti-wrinkle injections and fillers, to nose jobs and Brazilian Butt Lifts, why are so many people choosing to enhance their appearance? The first episode is released on Friday, 29 April.


Rupture and hope

In a world shaken by war, pandemic and climate crisis, hope is a precious resource. It can be fragile, fleeting and hard to find. But what exactly does hope mean? It has clear Christian overtones, and a venerable theological tradition behind it. This week we're talking about the ways in which the theological informs the secular, and exploring how hope plays out in the political arena. We also hear a personal story of rupture and trauma, and a perspective on hope that accommodates the tunnel...


Sex, death and chilli sauce

This week, a conversation about death, and the ways in which our reluctance to face mortality results in the creation of “immortality constructs” – comforting symbolic fictions that when challenged, can elicit a violent defensive response. In order to come to terms with death, we need to come to terms with sex – but this can involve a double bind for women. Is the age-old association of women with death and sexuality helpful or harmful? And what does this all have to do with chilli sauce?


Philosophy and myth

There was once a time when mythology and philosophy got along perfectly well together. But since the Enlightenment, philosophy has come to regard myth as something of an embarrassment – and today, we often tend to view “myth” as synonymous with “falsehood”, or at least as a throwback to pre-rational, superstitious human culture. Myths are also held to be suspect in political theory, where the memory of "blood and soil" Nazi ideology is still fresh. Is there a role for myth in secular...


The predicament of existence

Most of us agree that pain is part of life, that none of us can escape it, and that death comes for all of us in the end. And yet many of us feel that life is worth it; that the pleasure of life outweighs the suffering. Anti-natalist philosophy takes a different view. The anti-natalist believes that pain outweighs pleasure, so much so that it's morally wrong to bring a child into the world. What follows from this? Should we not only abstain from procreation but seek to stop non-human animals...


Moral beauty and art

Movies and TV series increasingly feature leading characters that are morally repugnant, and yet we respond positively to their charisma. Why do we like them so much on screen? And is our emotional investment in their stories indicative of moral failure on our own part? This week we're exploring ideas of moral beauty, moral ugliness, and the strange ways in which artists - even in apparently morally neutral fields like architecture - can play with our notions of good and evil.


Philosophers in love

Philosophy can sometimes be an exercise in abstract, "pure" reason, unsullied by the demands of the body or the contingencies of history. But this week we're placing history and corporeality front and centre, with a look at the intimate lives of four eminent philosophers, and asking how their private entanglements shaped their public work.


The ethics of uterus transplantation

If a woman wants to experience pregnancy but can't, the answer could be a uterus transplant. The technology is promising, if still very new — but how ethically sound is it?



Can all people who hold extreme views be fairly described as "extremists"? Extremism is a slippery concept. Its connotations are perjorative but at a glance, it can be difficult to see what differentiates extremism from more acceptable forms of fringe belief such as radicalism. Is it possible to be an extremist in the name of a morally worthy cause? and how should we deal with extremists in our midst?


Trans-national adoption and "blending in"

At the end of the Korean War in 1953, the government launched an adoption program for orphans, most of whom went to white families in the USA and western Europe. Since then, an estimated 200,000 South Korean children have been adopted to Western countries. This week’s guest has conducted field research to explore their experience of the “trans-racial adoption paradox”: the feeling of belonging culturally while embodying difference, and the challenges faced by adopted people of colour...


Efficiency, productivity, excess

These days we’re constantly pushed to be more efficient – at work, of course, but also in our leisure pursuits and even while we sleep (“hacking your sleep cycle” to extract maximum benefit from the nocturnal hours is a staple of wellness magazine articles). How did we get here? And how can we get back to a state that’s less pressured, a state governed by principles other than accumulation and profit?


Consciousness and contemplation

Consciousness is one of those phenomena that combine the everyday with the ineffable. We experience consciousness intimately, and yet in many ways it remains ungraspable. What is consciousness? Why do we have it? How can the physical stuff of the world give rise to something as mysterious as first-person experience? Philosophy, science and contemplative traditions have all struggled with these questions - and this week, we're talking about a new Centre for Consciousness and Contemplative...


Art and climate

Our current climate crisis is, as much as anything else, a crisis of communication. Artists have a unique opportunity to step in and deliver environmental messages in a way that speaks to the emotions and the gut. And in doing this, they're reconfiguring the conceptual map of what art is supposed to be. Can a public sleepover in a town hall to raise awareness of disaster preparedness be called “art”? And what role do mystery and aesthetics play in this sort of work?


China, Confucius and the courtyard

For more than three millennia, most buildings in China were configured around a central courtyard. This week’s guest believes that the courtyard helps us to understand Chinese society and culture, as well as Confucian philosophy. Today, with increasing numbers of people living in urban apartment buildings, the courtyard has become something of a period piece. What does this tell us about Chinese thought and identity in the modern world?



Many of us these days are buried beneath an avalanche of stuff – everyday objects that seem to proliferate in the cupboard while our back is turned. Our obsession with material technology infects our view of human history, as many anthropologists judge the progress of past civilisations on the basis of how much stuff they generated, or “failed” to generate. And the production of stuff threatens our future, with the looming catastrophe of climate change and the growing tide of microplastics.


What we talk about when we talk about race

The 19th century notion of race as something rooted in biology and genetics is a well-debunked idea whose time has passed. But the more recent liberal conception of race as a social construct fails to acknowledge the ways in which race is lived in and through the body (something the COVID pandemic has thrown into sharp relief). This week we’re talking about race as theory and experience, and how best to increase racial literacy.


The death of analytic philosophy?

The death of analytic philosophy has been confidently predicted for almost as long as analytic philosophy has been around. But today, with profound challenges posed by feminism, postcolonialism and critical race theory, could its long-heralded demise finally be on the horizon? And what exactly do we mean when we talk about analytic philosophy anyway – is it a science, a tradition or little more than a style?